So it took me forever to get round to it. So?
I hardly know where to begin with this post. It seems like I’ve been out here for so long. Forever, in fact. This morning I had a last excursion with Yonas and Amaha as they insisted on taking me to Menelik’s first palace above the city, a nice gesture since I officially stopped paying both their wages and the vehicle rent yesterday. Amaha, I know, wants to see me again tomorrow (and tonight, but that’s not happening) but I suspect that’s the last I’ll see of Yonas.
It’s been a good trip, and it’s been funny to watch how quickly the two of them will say “no, research” whenever anyone asks if I’m a tourist. Once, when I got up before them and went to have a coffee in a cafe on my own in Sodo, I met a Tanzanian guy, doing some work for the IMF. When I tried to explain to him what I was doing he said “ah, you’re exploring.” I hadn’t thought of it quite like that before.
Just as quick as “no, research” is Yonas’s “Ambasha” (Ethiopian) whenever anyone points out that I’m furangi. He takes as much delight in pointing out the other furangi’s to me as other Ethiopians do in pointing at me though.
During the last week and a bit, we’ve criss-crossed southern Ethiopia as I’ve met agriculturalists and nomadic pasturalists alike, building up what I hope is a pretty good series of provisional notes to sort out a funded ethnozooarchaeological PhD. I’ve spent the last six months saying “I’m convinced that there’s some old man somewhere in Ethiopia who knows how to butcher animals with stone tools – all I have to do is find him.” Well, I have.
In every community I’ve visited, the last question has usually been “have you ever heard of anyone using stone tools to make meat?” To begin with, the answer was invariably no, but then we began to follow up tenuous leads which grew stronger until, just as I was about to give up, we found him. He’s 82 and has three wives. (Although he’s now a Christian. I’m not sure how that works.)
So, superficially, all my objectives have been achieved. Coming out here was always going to be a very big risk (why do I always go for the big risks instead of doing the simple little things right?) and ultimaely it’s proven to be a very expensive risk as well, so I’ve cut my time here and changed my flights to fly back on Monday, 11 days earlier than originally planned. As for whether or not it’s been a success, ultimately, the question can only be answered in about nine months time.
I sometimes wonder whether I pick the right people to surround myself with, whether I help to create the right atmosphere, or whether I’m just lucky.
My driver, Yonas, is probably the ony Ethiopian I’ve met who’s taller than me. He’s one of those rangey, sonorous and very capable looking people. The first time he broke into song took me quite by surprise, but I’ve since come to learn that he’s prone to frequent singing, dancing, whooping and clapping. Our bonding was complete on a bar crawl in Arba Minch, where we both agreed that one bar was too loud, that all the girls were prostitutes (and probably some of the boys too, although I think that would shock Yonas) and that we should leave and take Amha with us.
It seems like much longer ago that I was in Addis than it really is, and even longer ago that I was in the UK. When I left here last week, we headed straight into the Gurage region and to villages away from the main roads and which looked most traditional.
It was Monday when we made it to Arba Minch, where I witnessed a rather different form of pastoralism, in a visit to a crocodile farm. Apparently, after skinning them at five years old, they feed the meat to the local wild crocodile population. The following night we made it to Sheshemene, coincidentally on the day of Haile Selassie’s birthday. Just outside of Sheshemene is that land that Haile Selassie gave to the Rastafarians and it has become their Jerusalem. The town was full of Rastas from all over the world that day.
Yesterday, we got back to Addis much quicker than Yonas expected, despite stopping at two places on the way – the World Heritage site of Tiya and a rock-hewn church.
I think I’ve ruined Amha. He’s now addicted to Tobasco sauce, Ali Farka Toure and the Loney Planet guide to Ethiopia. Since we arrived back early yesterday, he insisted on taking me to all his usual hangouts and introducing me to all his friends. I think he was most desperate for me to meet his fiancee, but his friends held us up and at midnight I said I was going back to the hotel and would meet her tonight.
The hotel… It’s never a good sign when a hotel provides a bed, a table and a packet of condoms is it?
I’ll be in Addis again tonight, and then I’m heading out to the Sidama region for nine days.
“Noisy, dusty, sprawling and shambolic.” So said one traveller to Ethiopia’s capital over a century ago, on the surface of it, not a lot has changed in the year 2000 (yes, it’s the year 2000 in Ethiopia); Lonely Planet says “Addis Ababa is massive and incoherent”.
I arrived at Bole International Airport on Tuesday morning with no money and no visa – since it’s a closed currency, I was unable to obtain any Birr at Heathrow, as had been my original plan. What I really hadn’t reckoned with, however, was there being ‘phone line problems at the bank at Bole airport. Still having no visa, and being unable to pay for it, I spoke to the girl on immigration who agreed to let me in to the country if I left her my passport and returned with the money for a visa within 24 hours. I returned within one, and eventually managed to check in to my hotel around lunch time.
Wanting coffee by that point, I decided to wander the streets and try to familiarise myself with the city. I bumped into a guy called Daniel, who in turn introduced me to his friend Tom. Tom kindly offered to sell me a SIM card for my ‘phone for 600 Birr. I didn’t like either of them and after while managed to get shod of them. I proceeded to wander the streets, racking up 14 miles, and discovered that the British Embassy in Addis is useless. As is the restaurant in the hotel I’m staying in.
The ‘phone issue had become genuine though. Orange doesn’t appear to have a roaming agreement with Ethiopia’s national telecoms company who have, for reasons of their own, decided to stop selling SIM cards. I was quickly beginning to realise that I wasn’t going to be able to get much done out here without a ‘phone number, however.
So it was that the next day I continued my wanderings, this time in the general direction of Bole Road rather than the Piazza, racking up another 14 miles. About three o’clock I decided I needed food, remembering that I’d had no breakfast and no lunch the day before. In Rico’s bar I met Ben and Amha. Them, I trust. I’ve agreed to hire Amha as my guide and I have no doubt that Ben’s taking a cut as well. That night they took me to a traditional Ethiopian restarant where I drank Taj and watched a variety of different dances, including one particularly cool one which followed an entire agricultural production sequence from ploughing, all the way through to winnowing and then taking the seed to market.
They also managed to fix me up with a SIM card and a ‘phone (it was cheaper than getting mine unlocked) at a slightly more reasonable price than Tom.
Up early in the morning, I met Ben and Amhar for coffee and then continued touring the tour operators that we had begun to the night before. Eventually a deal was found which seemed to be OK. I returned to the hotel and washed some clothes ahead of my trip to the Gurage people. Seven days, then back in Addis for one before heading out to the Sidama people.
Returning to the Piazza to use an internet cafe, both Tom and Daniel have found me and asked for money. It was almost as hard work to get rid of them this time as it was last. Internet cafe’s in Addis are interesting. They may be a cafe, or have internet or, if you’re really lucky, both! The guy at the computer next to me has also just asked if I can used my credit card to pay for something for him on line. Do people really ever say yes to a request like that?
On Tuesday I wasn’t too keen on Addis, the Piazza is not a nice area, nor is the north of the city, where I’m based, or the city centre. Addis is essentially Africa’s Geneva, but get away from all the Governement, NGO, bank, UN and university buildings, into the outskirts of the city and it’s much nicer. Also much less hassle from the usual array of hawkers, beggers and con-artists that operate the main drags. Wednesday it seemed like a much nicer city. Still a city though, and I look forward to laving it.
OK, so, I admit, I’ve been lazy. At the start of the year, not a lot was happening, so I saw little point in writing anything here. From February onwards, however, things were very busy and, although things were happening, the longer I went without writing anything here, the less I thought about it.
Of course, although I wrote nothing here, gig reviews (and I went to several of them) continued to appear at Kid Vinyl, as usual.
So, apart from work, music and alcohol, what have I been occupying myself with? Well, more alcohol, as things turn out. I’ve just returned from an actual real holiday. One where I did nothing but relax. I can’t remember if I ever did that before, and it was so much better than I imagine a beach holiday to be. Over a week of sun, sea and whisky – what could be better?
The first day there involved blagging a warehouse tour of Lagavulin, which involved drinking a ridiculous amount of excellent, and rare, whisky in a ridiculously short amount of time. I’m sorry to say that some people couldn’t keep up, but I certainly wasn’t going to let any of it go to waste. Well, maybe the stuff that was rubbed into people’s bald heads. This tour was debauchery on a whole level which the other distilleries were to have difficulty keeping up with.Other highlights of the week included a very pleasant afternoon ant Kilchoman, great days at Bowmore and Ardbeg and a fun time at Bruichladdich, who perhaps have the most to prove, as well as a very good gig by Skerryvore – who it turns out are terrible in a studio setting. I may or may not write something about that on Kid Kinyl.
More complete details of the week can be found over at Cask Strength, a ‘blog of the event run by two fellas I met whilst I was there.
This time two weeks ago I was sat next to a roaring fire in Bala, eating a big ham and leek pie and preparing to go and drink a stranger out of beer.
I’d spent the morning up a mountain in Snowdonia NP, standing in the middle of a peat bog, coring for pollen (amongst other things) and enjoying the rain, the wind and the snow. Enjoy might be an odd word, but I genuinely did enjoy that weekend. It was nice to get away from Sheffield, it was nice to be outside and it was nice to be doing proper work again instead of paper work. As a bonus, North Wales reminds me of Cornwall so much that it felt quite homely.
Garrett and I had agreed to help Tudur do this part of his fieldwork for his PhD and over three days we got everything he needed to get done, done, plus a little bit more, so a success all round really. Plus I got to buy some game from the butcher’s in Bala when we left. Always good.
The following weekend began with a ZAP discussion on the Friday night, which was fantastically angry, then Dani came home with me as we spent the next two days commuting to York for the TAG conference sessions. I heard an awful lot of crap there.
The next day we had a (very brief!) field trip up onto the Peak to look at one of the areas that we have to write a report on for palyonology (due the new year). The highlight for me came through finding proper ale in the pub instead of all this Northern rubbish. Again, it was nice to be outside again and at least this time we were lucky with the weather, with it staying pretty mild all day.
On Tuesday I finally got a chance to do the basic desk research for my PhD proposal and on Wednesday I went to see family and friends before Christmas in a whistlestop tour of Devon and Cornwall – Family for lunch in Liskeard, Becci for coffee in Truro and then Anna and Martin in Plymouth for dinner.
Thursday was the grand day of our Christmas Dinner (well, we had to do it, didn’t we?) which was a pretty fun way to spend the afternoon. Many photos from this and Wales are on Facebook.
On Friday my new fridge-freezer arrived, which was exciting. Garrett helped me receive it and then we hit B&Q before I finished my Christmas shopping.
And finally, today. I took Kura up to the cattery in Chapel-en-le-Frith, got home, packed my bag, and arrived at Heathrow very early (so much less traffic than I was expecting!), leaving me to sit here in an internet cafe typing this. Forgive any spelling errors above, this is a strange place to be sat at a computer!
Merry Christmas All!
Well, it’s been a busy few weeks. My workload hasn’t lessened at all since I last posted on here but I have, at least, continued to keep myself busy at weekends too.
Three weekends ago I had a lovely time with my mum and dad when they came to stay; it was great to see them and we even made the discovery that it’s technically possible to get Indian food delivered here – although I haven’t tried it yet.
The following weekend Martin came to stay and, since he arrived on the Friday, we went down the pub in Sheffield. Where he was subjected to several long and tedious conversations on subjects such as pollen. He was eventually saved at closing time and we went to a different pub where the music was so loud that it was impossible to hear anyone speak. Earlier that day we had gone to what is possibly the world’s most bizarre farm shop.
I say “farm shop”… I mean a room with a doorbell and three freezers full of meat, accompanied by a woman who says “what do you want” in a monotone and without ever looking you full in the face.
The Sunday night was the main event, as we had tickets to see Bill Bailey at Nottingham. As four o’clock came and it started snowing, I was a little grateful that I’d lost the coin toss to decide who drove on the Friday. We got some dinner in Nottingham and by the time we’d walked the length of
the street down to the Arena, our clothes were soaked through. My jeans had just about dried out by the time the performance was over and I had to wonder why Martin had left his coat in the car… By the time we got home there was up to 4″ of snow lying.
Amazingly, most of it had cleared by the time we got up the next morning. It was a brilliant night though and a good weekend all round.
This last weekend came after what was meant to be (I believe) the deadline for the final essay we have due this term and by means of celebrating, I invited everyone over for a multicultural night in the country. Ultimately, the essay deadline was postponed until today, but that only put the Greeks off. The Saturday night, Marianne prepared a cracking Bigos for us and Garrett and Elan tried to prove to the rest of us once and for all that American biscuits are not the same thing as scones (for the record, I’ll concede that they do have a different texture – they’re like filo scones!).
Rob and I traded whiskies until about 3.30 in the morning and then at 8.30, able to contain my hunger no longer, I put the gas on under the frying pan. I forget precisely how long it took to fry all that meat. There was much porky goodness. The roast dinner has been postponed until another occasion, however, as everyone returned to Sheffield to write their essays.
The other significant news of the last couple of weeks is that I’ve sorted out my dissertation topic. I’ll be analysing the faunal assemblage from West Halton. It’s principally an Anglo-Saxon site, but there’s some Bronze age material, which will keep me interested!
It’s an attitude that stereotypes archaeologists, and particularly field archaeologists, the world over. Seldom can it have been more applicable to a group of archaeology students, however, than when considered for the Environmental Archaeology and Palaeoeconomy course at Sheffield.
In barely three weeks, I have already filled a lever arch file and printed and read more articles than I did in the whole of my undergraduate career. This last week has been fairly representative of it.
Last weekend we all gathered at Craig’s house for drinks on Saturday night, while some of us watched the rugby and others played a game of Risk. After the match finished, we looked for another party. After that, of course, I was a little late in rising on Sunday – much to Kura’s chagrin, as she’s become accustomed to me getting up at 6. The Sunday was spent reading some articles in preparation for Tuesday’s seminar, punctuated by a short walk to look for Ayesha.
On Monday I got up at the usual 6am and did some more reading in preparation for the next day’s seminar, then headed into Sheffield for midday, where we had arranged to meet to discuss any problems anyone may have in preparing for the seminar, had lunch in the pub, and then did some lab. work before returning to cook dinner. Which I followed with some more reading for the next day’s seminar.
Tuesday was heralded by a lovely bright sunrise. Which blinded me as I reversed out of the drive; I felt and heard the car rise and drop all of a sudden, by the offside front wheel. I went forward and back again, and knew something was wrong. I could see nothing resting up at the side of the road, but managed to get the car to Kwikfit in Chesterfield, where I explained that my tracking rods were probably bent and they, in turn, explained that they couldn’t do anything about that, but agreed to put my car up on the ramp and have a look.
"There’s nothing wrong with it."
"Yes there is", I said, as I left the waiting room and went to have a look for myself. ""The wishbone’s bent."
Needless to say, the main dealer in Chesterfield couldn’t help and I needed to get my car fixed asap. Finding someone who could, I walked the couple of miles back into the town centre and availed myself of the world’s worst ploughman’s lunch. Getting home sometime around seven, cooking dinner and then doing a little reading for Thursday’s seminar.
Wednesday’s a late start officially, so I spent the morning doing some more reading for the next day’s seminar, as well as going out for another look for Ayesha, and then headed into Sheffield for a lecture in the afternoon. Getting home some time around half six, I ended up sitting in Jude’s living room until nine, drinking beer.
Thursdays start with a lecture, which is followed by the usual pub lunch, then another lecture and seminar in the afternoon. Since there was no essay to hand in this week – usually due on a Friday – we went out for a curry and then a couple of beers. Very nice it was too; Rob and I ordered some dish which was reviewed in The Guardian food section. We know this because we proudly had photocopies of the review thrust in front of our faces.
On Friday I attended a conference on Neolithisation in honour of Anthony Sherratt. The conference continued today (I eschewed the traditional conference drinking session in the evening) and after that I went to the library to obtain articles to read for this Tuesday’s seminar. Tonight, Jude’s coming over to watch the rugby and then tomorrow I’ll do more reading in preparation for the next seminar and the essay due next week.
"What larks, eh Pip?"
On Wednesday, the fifth September, I was painfully aware that my course in Sheffield was starting in under a month and was beginning to despair of ever finding a house. That day I saw a new listing on the internet which looked pretty good and promptly rang the estate agent. “Oh no, that’s gone, sorry,” said the girl on the other end of the ‘phone. As I explained exactly what I was looking for – most importantly a place suitable for cats – she said she may have a property to suit, in Doncaster. I didn’t much like the sound of the place but, bearing in mind my already acknowledged desperation, arranged to go and look round that Friday at midday.
The following afternoon I found a whole new button on the main website I was using – “character properties”. Clicking on it hopefully, I saw a great looking farmhouse near Matlock and again rang the estate agent immediately:
“Oh no, sorry, that one’s gone, we’re just about to update the website.”
“Oh right, well, thanks anyway,” I said.
“Have you seen the cottages, some of them are still available,” he added, hopefully.
“No, what’s that?”
“The property is part of a small development with some cottages, some of which are still available.”
After explaining where I lived presently and that having close neighbours wouldn’t bother me overly much, I arranged to look around the cottages on my way back down from Doncaster.
The larger of the two cottages was still absolutely tiny, with an open plan living room-kitchen occupying the loft space and two bedrooms downstairs. I had already been concerned at having to pay for storage, now I was seriously concerned whether or not my bed would actually fit into one of these rooms. Nevertheless, the situation was ideal and I agreed to take it – promising to pay as soon as the banks opened on Monday and asking for dimensions of the rooms, doors and stairway so that I could work out what would fit in and arrange removals.
As the week dragged on, my prospective landlord continually failed to give me these details or the address. On Friday he gave me the address and promised to go up to the property with a tape measure the following day to get me my requested measurements. “By the way,” he added, “the farmhouse is available now, the people who were going to move in have pulled out – do you want it?” The cottage had already been more than I had wanted to pay, and this was £45pcm more again, but thinking quickly, I realised it could work out cheaper if I didn’t have to pay for storage and so agreed to take it pending measurements. I persuaded him to accept the money I’d already paid for the cottage, including the first month’s rent, for the farmhouse and found a website with some internal photos of the property. Suddenly I was feeling pretty chuffed about it.
At 8.30 on Monday morning I began ringing round removal companies – having obtained quotes from some already – and found one who could move me that coming Thursday. Coincidentally, this was also the company who had given me the cheapest quote! Packing proceeded in earnest for the next two and a half days…
I arrived at the house in reasonable time, Ayesha having lost her voice somewhere on the M42, and after having a cursory look around inside with my landlord then proceeded to stand outside and have a chat with him and my new neighbour, Jude.
After a couple of hours, I thought I’d really better ring the removal men and find out where they were:
“We’re on your road now.”
“Excellent,” I said.
“We’re just passing a phone box.”
Jude reckoned this was probably by The White Hart, about half a mile away, and I relayed the information.
“I’ll probably end up down there for dinner at this rate,” I said.
“I don’t think so,” Jude replied, “It’s very posh down there – they do Italian food.”
“Oh right, I don’t suppose there are any takeaways anywhere nearby?” I asked, somewhat hopefully.
“Umm… Not really, no. There’s a chip shop in Crich, about a mile and a half away, they close at 9.30.”
“Fish and Chips it is then, thanks.”
With that, Jude disappeared back into her house as the removal men arrived and, at 8.30, I followed Jude’s directions to Crich and ordered some fish and chips. As I was standing there waiting, who should walk in but the lovely Jude.
“I was going to buy you a bag of chips; I thought you must be hungry.”
“I haven’t paid yet,” I smiled, cheekily.
As the days went by, I slowly began to get everything in the house sorted out:
Friday I got some gas delivered (again arranged thanks to Jude).
Saturday I went out and bought a television aerial in order to watch the rugby.
Sunday my landlord came and removed his furniture, and so on.
At the end of September, I finally had hot water and a working shower and, as I did some work on the car on Sunday morning I took the opportunity to fit a cat flap and let them out since I would be outside for an hour anyway. Ayesha was delighted and slowly explored, periodically returning to rub up against my legs.
I can barely remember all that I’ve done since I last wrote on here. I probably should have read the last entry before writing, but the main reason for writing this is to let certain people know what I’m up to if I don’t see them for a while, and I have seen people since I last posted here.
In fact, I had some really lovely meals with my mum and dad down here a couple of weeks ago where we also got to see some other friends and family I care about. After one meal, Martin and I managed to get through quite a lot of scotch at the Horse. Which was nice…
Last week I had the pleasure of a very wet boat trip on the Thames with my mum, dad and little brother which, despite the weather, was really rather enjoyable. Odd to think that we don’t know when we’ll next be together as just the four of us again. The less said about the “curry” the better…
On the uni front, the marks I’ve got back continue to be good and the exam I had on Friday went a lot better than I was expecting. One to go…
Oh, and that ‘phone I reviewed here a few weeks back is about to be put on eBay. Anyone interested, let me know.